There was an awful lot of pain.
It swirled about the shivering wreck that had been Corporal Mecho Tinker in great swathes of bright blood red full of half-seen faces and half-heard voices. It washed through his whole body in great crashing red-hot waves that came from the pulsing ball of agony that had once been his chest.
He didn't remember this much pain the last time he died.
He didn't remember very much at all any more.
Occasionally words from outside the pain broke through, but they meant very little to him, trapped as he was inside his own intense little world of hurt.
"...afraid it's infected."
"Will he die, Madame?"
"Don't talk like that, of course....not going to die...Mecho, can...hear me? Stay with us..."
For a brief moment the vision of an angel's face, suffused with love and tenderness, appeared before his aching eyes; he tried to reach for it, tried to reach for the name that went with it, but his arms seemed as though they were held down with some terrible weight and the pain was still swamping his mind, making coherent thought impossible. He reached...and failed, and fell helplessly back once again into the morass of his own agony.
He stayed like that for a long time, while Nyssa da Silva sat at his bedside and watched his pale face, and Quant used everything he knew to keep the young man from the brink of death.
On the fifth day after Mecho had taken the bolt for Madame, Nyssa woke suddenly from her uneasy doze in the chair next to his bed, uncountably disturbed. She had grown used to Mecho's feverish mumbles and groans, but now they were silenced, replaced by panting, bubbling breaths full of desperate effort.
Anxiously she commanded "Light!" and the candles on the table and windowsill bloomed simultaneously, filling the little sickroom with their flickering radiance. Mecho's pallid face had a greenish tinge, and the bandage tied around the hole in his chest was soaked with blood and something more worrying. Quant, old man as he was, was fast asleep in a smaller bed nearer the door; Madame shook him awake in an instant.
His face, when he turned away from the poor soldier in the bed, was grave.
"I warned you that this may happen when the wound became infected two days ago," he said solemnly. "I am afraid the young man is dying; it is only a matter of time now."
Madame shook his head. "He will not die."
Quant paused, and looked at the brave leader of the Mage's School who had led them to retake the town from the Scarlets. She did not look her usual smooth and well-groomed self; days of sleeping in a chair and endless worrying had left her hair straggling and drawn dark circles underneath her eyes. But the look of stubborn determination was the same.
"My lady," he said delicately, "There is very little chance that he will live."
"Then there is a chance, and we must take it. Do everything, Quant. He will live."
"He will live!"
The words whiplashed out, and Quant nearly staggered as though they had physical force. He bowed his head, knowing the futility of arguing with Madame da Silva when her mind was made up.
"Aye, my lady. He will live."
She nodded stiffly and rolled up her sleeves.
"I will help. My speciality is not healing, but I managed to heal this young man once before, and I will do it again. Tell me what I must do, and I will do it."
Mecho made it through that night, with the combined efforts of both Nyssa and Quant; the old healer was forced to admit that it was more Nyssa than he, and also to almost forcibly put her to bed. She had poured her heart and her life into the healing-magic, and it had taken more out of her than she wanted to admit.
So it was the old man who stayed up to watch over both of them, the young man clinging to life by the barest of threads and the woman who frowned in worry even in her sleep.
The next day, Mecho was worse again. Madame's eyes went hard and flinty when she saw him, and she would not give up. That night, they breathed with harsh effort in unison, and it was hard for Quant to work out whose breath belonged to whom.
The next day again Mecho's fever was high, and he had begun once again to babble.
"We are back to where we begun," Madame said quietly. "He is better than he was. He will live."
Quant nodded, and reflected that if it could been seen as a significant improvement to return Mecho to the state he was in before, then Madame must have grasped how severe the illness had been. And yet she had fought nonetheless.
And it had worked. Mecho continued to improve; and as he improved, Madame began to relax. It warmed Quant's heart to see them both gain colour in their cheeks, and to see Madame occasionally leave the sickroom to talk to her students; and when Mecho woke up for the first time for almost two weeks, the last remnants of the tension evaporated.
As Nyssa da Silva left the young man's bedside, once he had slipped into a peaceful, natural sleep, she winked at Quant and smiled for the first time in a while.
"I told you he would live," she said, quite simply.